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Call for court to impose privacy regime on Google Books

In an amicus brief, the Center for Democracy and Technology supports Google Books deal but want court to mandate rigorous privacy restrictions.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on
The Center for Democracy and Technology "strongly supports" the Google Books settlement but in an amicus brief (PDF) to be filed Tuesday calls on the court to impose mandatory privacy requirements.

CDT sees the enormity of Google's proposed position as well as anyone:

Google is in many ways taking on the role of the public library as a gateway to information, only on a much larger and more comprehensive scale. Providing such breadth of electronic access to so many published books will give Google an unparalleled view of people’s reading and information-seeking habits. By hosting the book search service and closely managing user access, Google will have the capability to collect data about individual users’ searches, preview pages visited, books purchased, and even time spent reading particular pages. ... Google will hold a massive centralized repository of books and of information about how people access and read books online.

And Google will not only be the world's biggest library but also the dominant purveyor of search and behavioral advertising. That's a scary combination.

In the absence of binding limits on what Google can do with the data it collects about readers through the New Services, Google would remain free to combine that data with other data that Google collects, adding a rich and personal dimension to the profiles that Google already maintains about individuals’ searching and Web surfing habits. Reading habits add an intimate element to profiles that may already be attractive for a variety of uses ... As valuable as the New Services will be, without action by this Court to protect reader privacy, they have the potential to transform the typical library experience from one of anonymity and privacy to one of data collection and tracking.

Thus, CDT calls on the court to mandate and supervise a number of additional privacy requirements:

  • Full disclosure. Google should prominently explain to users what personal information it collects, what content information it collects, why, how long it's retained, technically how it's collected, how users can opt out, how data is protected against theft.
  • Limited data. Google should be allowed to collect only the data it needs to operate the program. The right to read anonymously must not be abridged.
  • Hands off institutions. There's no need for Google to authenticate individual users within a school or library.
  • Annotations. Google should not be allowed annotations to be used for any purpose other than to provide the annotation feature or as users clearly consent. The fear is those annotations could provide sensitive personal information.
  • User access. Users should be able to to correct or delete information Google holds about them, including purchase histories, annotations and search history.
Actually the list goes on to cover 12 privacy concerns. While getting the court to enforce all these privacy concerns would be great, I still don't think it goes far enough. We need to get out of print books online, it's true, but there's a way to take what Google has outlined here and create a consortium of libraries, not just outsouce digital libraries to one company.

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